This garage-rock outfit is made up of three non-related Glasgow lads whose band name doubles as their surname (think The Ramones) — and the tag may or may not have been inspired by the bad guys in the 1980s feel-good adventure flick The Goonies. The Fratellis are huge in the U.K. and gained wide exposure in the States thanks to the foot-stompin' single "Flathead" that's featured in a recent iPod/iTunes advertising campaign.
Costello Music is the band's debut album (they also have a couple EPs under their belt), and most songs on it race along like multiple rounds of whiskey shots while a few others linger like the final dram in the bottle at the end of the night. Boisterous melodies are sold with handclaps and choruses are kissed with beer-soaked "la la las."
The best laidback number is "Whistle for the Choir," which is augmented with a nice bit of human whistling. The album boasts energy to spare from top to bottom, with lots of cheeky lyrics about boozing, getting stoned and chasing girls who get "naked for a living." It's music you'd definitely expect to hear on the soundtrack to Trainspotting 2.
But for all of Costello's Music's out-of-the-gate charm, it quickly wears thin. After a solid week listening to it on and off, it holds up to repeated plays about as well as a set of well-written commercial jingles: delectable at first, but slightly more sour with each listen. Or maybe it's just those sloshed Scottish voices wearing me down. 3 stars —Wade Tatangelo
Who'd have guessed that nuance would suit Grand Champeen so well? On their fourth full-length, the Texas rockers dial back the 'Mats slop and Tupelo twang for more considered pop arrangements where strings, keys, horns and Beach Boys harmonies share the stage with the fuzzy guitars and atom-smashing drums. Imagine Spoon and Portastatic collaborating, and you're in Dial T's neighborhood. Grand Champeen's rock 'n' roll heart still beats, just at a poppier pace these days. 3.5 stars —John Schacht
They broke the mold with this dude. A classically trained violinist, Bird first staked out recognition as a sort of adjunct member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and became a de facto fellow traveler in the attendant neo-swing and antique Americana fads. His last handful of solo albums have nothing whatsoever to do with revivalism, though, especially the accomplished Armchair Apocrypha, which showcases his acute ear for sophisticated pop-folk melodies; a tenderly expressive tenor voice (from a weary, Tweedy-esque moan to a fragile croon à la Jeff Buckley) and a facility for layering his violin (plucked, bowed, drenched in echo) to create sumptuously ethereal rhythm tracks. Bird is also a wantonly obtuse lyricist who evokes atmosphere more than narrative. "These looms that weave apocryphal/ They're hanging from a strand/ These dark and empty rooms were full/ of incandescent hands." Don't know what those words mean. Don't really care. They sound good. Just like the low-key Armchair Apocrypha — at once lofty and inviting — sounds good. 3.5 stars —Eric Snider
John Platania — who played on Van Morrison's classic hits "Moondance" and "Domino" — is one of the unsung guitar heroes of the classic rock era. Rather than discharge hails of gunfire à la Jeff Beck and his ilk, Platania plays a nuanced, lyrical style that brims with feeling and splendor. Blues, Waltzes and Badland Borders is Platania's first solo album, a mostly instrumental affair produced by singer/songwriter great Chip Taylor. As its title suggests, the album is an eclectic affair that works a nice cross-section of Texas roots styles with élan and passion. The backing band includes frequent Taylor collaborator Carrie Rodriguez (fiddle), and there are separate guest-vocal spots by Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams, who makes a memorable appearance on the album finale "In Memory of Zapata." One quibble: Most of the spoken word narratives encumber rather than enhance. 3.5 stars —WT